Saint John explores closing streets, expanded restaurant patios as COVID-19 restrictions ease

Click to play video: 'Saint John may expand restaurant patios by closing some streets to vehicles'
Saint John may expand restaurant patios by closing some streets to vehicles
Saint John is debating on creating pedestrian-only areas in the city. As a reopening precaution, this would give restaurants room to expand their outdoor patios. Tim Roszell reports – May 8, 2020

The City of Saint John is exploring ways to safely bring people back into the uptown core as restrictions surrounding restaurant traffic are eased across New Brunswick.

Global News has learned the city is in discussions with Uptown Saint John and various other stakeholders to consider closing down certain streets to vehicle traffic.

It’s aimed at keeping people safe and socially distant. Part of the discussion has included allowing restaurants to have new or larger patios on city sidewalks.

READ MOREL: Verdun to launch pilot project closing off parts of Wellington Street to traffic

Nancy Tissington, the executive director of Uptown Saint John, said the city has an opportunity to innovate and set trends for other regions of the country as they prepare to reopen for business.

“We don’t have a playbook on all this… but we are going to think about piloting some things and some of those things would be patio expansions or an actual street closure. ” Tissington said.

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“Those would be set at a certain time, maybe on a weekend, Saturdays and Sundays. And we’ll see how people respond to that.”

Tissington said Uptown Saint John is pushing the city to waive permit fees and relax rules surrounding outdoor eating areas.

She said eliminating vehicle traffic on certain streets would go a long way toward assisting local businesses, although she admitted the closures would be done on a rotational basis.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus around the world: May 8, 2020'
Coronavirus around the world: May 8, 2020

The concept is intriguing to Matthew Elliott, the owner and chef at Ethel and Mary’s on Princess Street.

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Elliott launched his small restaurant on February 25, just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We had a really strong first three weeks,” Elliott said. “And we were all excited and planning for the summer of course, tourism season and things like that. And then it just sort of hit us like a ton of bricks.”

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Elliott said his business should survive the difficult economic climate. He said the restaurant was already serving a large percentage of carry-out customers, so shifting to full-time carry-out was not a challenge.

Other restaurants and businesses may not be as lucky. Taco Pica, a fixture in the uptown for a quarter-century, announced this week it is closed permanently.

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“Some are pivoting, some finding this exceptionally difficult,” Tissington said of restaurants in Saint John. “(Some) have not opened, and they may not ever open again.

“There are projections between 20 to 30 per cent of our streetscapes in our uptowns and downtowns across Canada, that we will lose businesses.”

Elliott said he’s interested to see what the plans look like.

“Personally, I’ve always been for the idea of having pedestrian-only sections in the city during the summer anyway,” Elliott said. “I think it’s something that could benefit the uptown core.”

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Coronavirus outbreak: Street-facing store fronts given permission to open with curbside pick-up only

His restaurant only seats 10 people inside without physical distancing. It’s on Princess Street, one of the streets expected to be included in the plans.

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He said he can envision a café-style set-up with tables on the sidewalk outside his door.

“Anything that’s going to be more work, I’m down for that,” Elliott said. “That sounds good to me, you know.

Saint John Mayor Don Darling could not be reached for comment on Friday.

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